A new CNN poll reveals that one in four Europeans are anti-Semitic.
By Bari Weiss
Ms. Weiss is an editor and writer in the Times Opinion section.
Paris. Toulouse. Malmo. Copenhagen. Brussels. Berlin.
For most people, they are lovely cities where you might happily take a holiday. But for the world’s Jews, they are something else, too. They are place names of hate.
Paris for us doesn’t mean just baguettes and Brie but also this year’s murder of a Holocaust survivor in her apartment in the 11th arrondissement and the 2015 siege of a kosher supermarket during which four people were killed. Toulouse is the place where in 2012 three Jewish children and a teacher were murdered at school.
Malmo doesn’t call to mind the Swedish coast so much as fire bombs planted outside a Jewish burial chapel. Copenhagen? Copenhagen is where a 37-year-old Jewish economist and voluntary security guard was gunned down as he was guarding a bat mitzvah at the city’s main synagogue in 2015. (The notion that synagogues require armed guards has long since stopped making us flinch.)
Brussels is where in 2014 four people were murdered at the Jewish museum. Berlin is a dateline we associate with news of people getting pummeled or harassed, for the sin of wearing a kippah or speaking Hebrew.
And this is to say nothing of the nonviolent attacks, which are impossible to keep up with. The desecration of cemeteries. Swastikas painted on synagogues and schools. Calling Jews “apes and pigs” at anti-Israel rallies.
On Tuesday, a CNN poll about the state of anti-Semitism in Europe startled many Americans — and confirmed what Jews who have been paying attention already knew about the Continent.
Not 74 years since the Holocaust ended, a third of respondents said they knew only a little or nothing at all about it.
The poll, which surveyed more than 7,000 people across Austria, France, Germany, Britain, Hungary, Poland and Sweden, didn’t only discover ignorance. It exposed bigotry.
Nearly a quarter of the respondents said Jews have too much influence in conflict and wars. More than a quarter believe that Jews have too much influence in business and finance. Nearly one in five believe that most anti-Semitism is a response to the behavior of Jews. Roughly a third say Jews use the Holocaust to advance their own goals. Just 54 percent say Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state.
It’s no wonder that to be a Jew in Europe today is to live your life in the closet.
Many religious Jews in Paris and Berlin wear baseball hats instead of kippot in public. Nearly half of Dutch Jews say they are afraid to identify publicly as Jewish. Every French Jew I’ve ever met who can afford it has bought an apartment in Israel or Montreal.
How did Europe reach this pass?
In many ways, it never left it. Anti-Semitism has been a fact of European life for more than 2,000 years. The postwar generation who lived with the shame of the Holocaust is dying out. Their children and grandchildren are less abashed when it comes to the old prejudices.
In her forthcoming book, “Anti-Semitism: Here and Now,” the scholar Deborah Lipstadt discusses a 2013 study of overtly anti-Semitic letters, emails and faxes received over the previous decade by the Israeli embassy in Berlin and the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The study found that 60 percent of the messages “came from educated, middle-class Germans, including lawyers, scholars, doctors, priests, professors, and university and secondary school students.” Even more remarkable, most of the letter writers provided their names and addresses.
Bigotry extends to the ballot box. The Alternative für Deutschland, led by a man who dismissed the Nazis as a mere “speck of bird poop” in Germany’s otherwise glorious history, is now the country’s third-largest party. The National Front in France, founded by a man who called the gas chambers a “detail in the history of World War II,” got 33.9 percent of the vote in the last presidential runoff elections. The Freedom Party in Austria, founded by ex-Nazis, is now part of the governing coalition. Then there is the rise of Law and Justice in Poland and Golden Dawn in Greece — developments cheered by those countries’ Jew haters.
But the story of European anti-Semitism isn’t simply a case of the resurgence of the neo-fascist right.
A large number of physically violent acts committed against Jews in Europe are perpetrated by radical Muslims. The incidents at the top of this article were not carried out by far-right goons but by Islamists, most of them young and some of them immigrants.
Now add a third ingredient to this toxic brew: the fashionable anti-Semitism of the far left that masquerades as anti-Zionism and anti-racism.
No political leader in Europe embodies that sentiment more than Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. He paid respects at the memorial of the Palestinian perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. He objected to the destruction of a street mural depicting despotic hooknosed Jewish bankers. He participated for over a decade in the activities of a group called Deir Yassin Remembered, which was led by a Holocaust denier. He publicly defended a virulently anti-Semitic vicar named Stephen Sizer. He invited an Islamist preacher who believes Jews use gentile blood for religious reasons to tea at Parliament. And so on.
And yet he adamantly denies being an anti-Semite, on the grounds that he has devoted his life to “exposing racism in any form.”
Anti-Semitism, though, isn’t just a brand of bigotry. It’s a conspiracy theory in which Jews play the starring role in spreading evil in the world. While racists see themselves as proudly punching down, anti-Semites perceive themselves as punching up.
The Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi put it elegantly: “What anti-Semitism does is turn the Jews — the Jew — into the symbol of whatever a given civilization defines as its most loathsome qualities.” When you look through this dark lens, you can understand how, under Communism, the Jews were the capitalists. How under Nazism, the Jews were the race contaminators. And how for Mr. Corbyn and his ilk on the left, Israel, the Jew among the nations, is the last bastion of white, racist colonialism.
European Jews must now contend with this three-headed dragon: Physical fear of violent assault, often by young Muslim men, which leads many Jews to hide evidence of their religious identity. Moral fear of ideological vilification, mainly by the far left, which causes at least some Jews to downplay their sympathies for Israel. And political fear of resurgent fascism, which can cause some cognitive dissonance since at least some of Europe’s neo-fascists profess sympathy for Israel while expressing open hostility to Muslims.
Now these three strains of hate are beginning to show up on this side of the Atlantic.
The biggest threat is on the far right. This is the anti-Semitism of “Jews will not replace us” marchers in Charlottesville, Va., and the killer at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh who ranted against globalists and the “kike infestation.” It is the anti-Semitism of Representative Steve King of Iowa and of alt-right Reddit boards and some of Donald Trump’s supporters.
Islamism is far less of a threat in the United States than in Europe — we do not, contrary to what the president would have you believe, have caravans of terrorists crossing our border. Still, a Muslim-American who expressed hatred of Israel shot six people, killing one of them, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, in 2006. Four Muslim men were arrested in a plot to bomb two Bronx synagogues in 2009. A Muslim convert was thwarted by the F.B.I. in his plan to blow up a Florida synagogue in 2016. Just last week, Mohamed Mohamed Abdi, a Somalian immigrant, shouted anti-Semitic slurs while trying to run down with his car people leaving a Los Angeles synagogue.
Finally there is the hatred from the left, which comes cloaked in the language of progressive values. This includes the perhaps unwitting anti-Semitism of college professors who refuse to write letters of recommendation for students wanting to study abroad in Israel or who seek to suspend study-abroad programs to Israel entirely, without thinking of sanctioning, say, China or Russia. Or turning a blind eye to unconscionable comments like one from Minnesota’s new congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who tweeted in 2012 “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel” — because she is breaking ground as a Muslim woman of color.
For reasons historic, aesthetic and political, we Jews are most attuned to the anti-Semitism of the far right — and we find the most sympathy among our progressive allies when these are our attackers. But when Jews point out the other two kinds, we are often dismissed as sensitive or hysterical, or as mistaking legitimate criticism of Israel for something darker.
This is nonsense. The same was said of the Jews in Europe when they sounded the alarm bells. Look where they are now.
Bari Weiss (@bariweiss) is a staff editor and writer for the opinion section.
More by the writer on anti-Semitism.Correction:
An earlier version of this article misidentified the event at Copenhagen's main synagogue at which a member was gunned down in 2015. It was a bat mitzvah, not a bar mitzvah.
Bari Weiss is a staff editor and writer for the Opinion section. @ bariweiss